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…and why would two proto-hippies with backpacks and a $2 a day budget even try such a venture in the first place?

We had been a week in Istanbul by that time and were now old hands at dealing with the chaos of the city. Bargaining in the bazaar meant we could argue down prices that had been tripled when they saw us coming to only double what we should have paid. Win-win! Sorting out where to go next and how to get there was the biggest problem. Minor problems included Nelson narrowly escaping getting busted when he spent a night at the Gulhane hotel looking for more hashish. When his room was raided, he hadn’t made any purchases yet…

At the Pudding Shop, we met another traveller who said the train to Teheran cost $25 and was a long, uncomfortable ride, but we could save money and have a better time of it going deck class on a boat up the Black Sea. That sounded good-an ocean cruise!

In this case, the ocean liner was more than slightly smaller than the Queen Mary and deck class was the forward hold, a concrete floor we shared with a Turkish peasant family and a few sundry Turkish soldiers, privates, no doubt. And a Scottish traveler, Bill. We left Istanbul late in the afternoon and soon realized another difference between our cruise and a Princess Line spin around the South Pacific-it was cold! And concrete is cold to sleep on when you don’t even have a sleeping bag. But I did make one amazing discovery thanks to Bill. Remember, this is 1968, or, for those of you who can count your decades on just one hand, the Dawn of Civilization. I had never heard of down sleeping bags, but Bill had one and Nelson and I were amazed at what it offered, for the size, vowing right there that if we ever did something like this again, it would be with one of those miracles of modern invention.

A night of shivering wasn’t actually fatal, and the next morning Nelson and I wandered up to one of the actual decks topside (as they say in the maritime world), hoping to breath a little fresher air and maybe find a warming ray of sun. Of course, deck class peons such as ourselves didn’t actually have permission to be topside. After a half hour of early morning light and minimal solar warmth, and an increasing amount of smoke from the ship’s stacks, due, we thought to the vagaries of the wind, an epalauted officer of non-specific rank informed us in broken English that our proffered ticket stubs entitled us to the concrete floor of our anchor hold in the ship’s prow, and nothing more. So we we scooted back in that direction, glad to be out of the smoke, at least. We passed scurrying crew responding to distorted loudspeaker commands in Turkish as we made our way back to quarters. And that really was a lot of smoke…

Once back to our concrete cell, I looked out the porthole and could see several fishing boats from some nearby village (we were about a mile off shore) circling the Ordu, our erstwhile craft, and peeking further down its flank, an awful lot of smoke. More befuddling announcements in Turkish came from the loudspeakers and our compartment mates began exchanging frantic looks. An officer then appeared, speaking first to them and then in a fair English to us, saying the Ordu’s engines had caught fire and we were abandoning ship.

OK….

We were by then a little used to things seeming more chaotic than they actually were and it wasn’t like the ship was producing any flames we could see. Not even listing to one side or the other. It had just come to a stop. We were then informed that life boats were being lowered and we must go. And leave our possessions behind.

 

Uh, no. Not going to happen. The three of us backpackers decided that if we waited for the last boat it probably wouldn’t be full and we would have room for our stuff. And we were right.

The life boats had filled and the stragglers (including us) were offered a ride to shore in one of the small fishing boats. It even had a motor!

We landed in the small village of Kurukasile, where we were probably the biggest thing to happen in the history of the place.

The only hotel in town filled up immediately with the other Turkish speaking passengers. Bill, with his very useful sleeping bag, went off in search of some place to lay it down for the night. Nelson and I hung around the tea shop, drinking glass after glass of sweet Turkish tea and trying to find that one officer who spoke enough English that we might implore him to help us find a place for the night.

Eventually, he did show up at the tea shop around 8 p.m. and heard our plea, then went off again. When he returned shortly, he had in tow a little old man, Mohmet Aytan, a resident of the village, who offered us a room in his home for the night. We gladly accepted, thanking both as best we could, and followed our guide through the woods to a small building that seemed to be made of sticks and random boards, no electricity, where we were ushered through, passing dimly lit rooms occupied by bescarved womenfolk, to a room in the back with a large bed and walls decorated by Tarzan movie posters in Turkish, lit by a lone kerosene lamp. A pile of chestnuts lay by the door.

Several minutes later, our host returned with a wooden stand covered with newspaper on which he placed numerous plates of food. There were green beans, fish, loaves of bread and onions. The three of us ate communally from the bowls. The beans were almost as good as the excellent fish (well, it was a fishing village.) We stuffed ourselves. This was followed by hot tea, lots of it, pears, figs and later, roasted chestnuts.

Mohmet brought in a young man of about 20, who I believe was his son, then a young boy of about five. Following these two were three daughters, a toddler, one about six and the oldest who appeared to be about ten years old. He then handed us an English primer and pointed to the oldest girl. Apparently, she was studying English in school. The name in the book was Hatiche and she was about the shyest little girl I’d ever met. One smile in her direction and she’d blush and turn away. We wrote a note of thanks in the primer and hoped her teacher would translate. I also took down their address and promised to send a picture when I could.

We were then told that a boat would arrive in the morning to take us back to Istanbul. That was the best we could hope for. We would wait and catch the next one to our destination of Trabzon, further east along the Turkish coast of the Black Sea.

After a heartfelt round of hugs and handshakes, we turned in for the evening and gladly burrowed into a pile of blankets large enough to smother a whale, secure under the gaze of Tarzan.

We were awakened at 5:30 a.m. and fed a breakfaste of tea and bread before exchanging our good-byes and wandering back to town. We could see the still smoking ORDU off the coast and its replacement in closer to shore. While waiting again in the tea house, one of the ship’s officers told us the replacement boat would actually continue on to Trabzon, so we wouldn’t have to double back to Istanbul after all. Hooray!

While waiting to board our new boat, a news crew from an Ankara newspaper and a TV station came out and interviewed Nelson and I at the cafe as we munched on apricots. Slow news day, I guess.

***

Thus ended our plight as shipwrecked refugees in need of safe harbor…which, of course, was not the case at all. We were never in danger, we had a great adventure, met people who befriended strangers and invited them into their home. Today, I can reflect back on my experience 50 years ago and still feel that gratitude. And when I look on how certain factions of our country now treat refugees in far more dire straights, I, like so many of us, can only wonder why a peasant family in rural Turkey could share what little they had with two foreign strangers but America, the richest country…yada, yada, yada, can only meet them with armed troops.

***

When I returned home to California, I did send a photo of Mohmet standing in front of his home to the address I had been given. Five years later, after I had returned from last and longest trip abroad, I received a letter from his daughter, Hatiche, written in Turkish. I found a transloator on the UC Berkeley campus and learned that they had enjoyed our visit and thanked me for the picture. And Hatiche said she was now married.

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